Avondale Jockey Club's battle with horse trainer reaches Court of Appeal

David White stuff.co.nz
Avondale Racecourse: Here today, gone tomorrow?

A horse trainer's battle with the Avondale Jockey Club has taken him all the way to the Court of Appeal after being suspended twice from its board.

And even after losing a High Court decision in April, Vince Middeldorp isn't going to give up without a fight.

The trainer has been a member of the Avondale Jockey Club in West Auckland since 1982 and was first elected to the committee in October 2013.

The club owns and manages the Avondale Racecourse and has been part of the city's racing industry since 1889.

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Vince Middeldorp is in a dispute with the Avondale Racecourse board, and is taking the case to the Court of Appeal.
David White/Stuff
Vince Middeldorp is in a dispute with the Avondale Racecourse board, and is taking the case to the Court of Appeal.

"New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing (NZTR) is keen to end racing at Avondale," Middeldorp said.

"But I'm like a lot of people, I don't want to see the racecourse end up as housing." 

He was first suspended from the club in November 2016 after he sent a number of emails to the chief executive of York Racecourse in England criticising United Kingdom-based consultants Turnberry and its founder Paul Roberts. 

It related to a proposal by Turnberry to redevelop Avondale Racecourse's facilities. Roberts complained to the NZTR and the Avondale Jockey Club about Middeldorp's comments and he was eventually stood down.

Middeldorp was suspended a second time in 2017 for writing an anonymous letter to club members in which he criticised certain decisions the committee had made and was planning to make. 

In April, Justice Christine Gordon agreed the club had no powers to suspend Middeldorp, but ruled against asking the club to make a declaration that it had acted illegally and without jurisdiction and that its decisions were invalid.

In a subsequent hearing in the High Court in June, Justice Gordon awarded the jockey club $19,672 in costs. 

This week Middeldorp's lawyers headed to the Court of Appeal to challenge the decision. Middeldorp's legal team includes QC Paul David, while the Avondale Jockey Club has enlisted QC Gillian Coumbe.

Avondale Racecourse has seen better days.
David White/Stuff
Avondale Racecourse has seen better days.

They are now awaiting the Court of Appeal's decision, which is expected in the New Year.

"I don't think I could have lived with myself if I hadn't pursued this. Before I went to court I had exhausted all of my other possible options, so at this stage I have got no regrets," Middeldorp said.

Meanwhile, Avondale Racecourse's future remains up in the air as it fights for its very survival.

A New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing (NZTR) report released in January said New Zealand had too many race tracks and many of them were run down and weren't up to a suitable standard for customers. 

Vince Middeldorp feeds his mare, Grumpy, mints from his back window.
David White/Stuff
Vince Middeldorp feeds his mare, Grumpy, mints from his back window.

It said the Auckland region only needed two tracks, Ellerslie and Pukekohe, while Avondale was seen as surplus to requirements.

According to NZTR, the turnover of the domestic racing industry had fallen by 14.4 per cent in the past 10 years. 

A report from July 2018, commissioned by Racing Minister Winston Peters, recommended the closure of a number of venues, including Avondale, from the 2020/2021 season.